The Executive Brief

Out Over Your Skis: When your company outgrows its executive leadership

Mike Frommelt Executive Leadership

In ski jumping, it’s not good to get too far over your skis as you fly down the hill.  If you do, its very likely you will crash, or at best have a clumsy landing.  In my 20 + years of working with privately held companies, I’ve noticed something very interesting with entrepreneur (Visionary) led companies that I now refer to as getting out over your skis in terms of your talent.  Amazingly, many companies I encounter have outgrown their leadership teams. i.e. the company is running at $25M year but the talent and capability of the leadership team is more akin to a $10M operation.

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Visionaries are the great equalizer

This used to surprise me, because it seems to defy logic; How could a company get to $25M if the team isn’t capable of running that size of business?  What I came to realize is the owner/entrepreneur/visionary is the great equalizer. Their sheer will to grow and succeed is what causes this phenomenon. They are so passionate and driven they are willing to handle certain components of everybody else’s job on the leadership team. In other words, they cover for the lack of ability (or desire) on the part of their leadership team members.  

Unfortunately, the result of this misalignment, just like being “out over your skis” can be very dangerous.  The entrepreneur will ultimately hit their max and growth will stall, sometimes to the point of getting stuck for years without real growth. In certain instances the result can be much worse. If  you’ve taken on more business than your team can handle, customer promises are often broken and reputational damage can occur. I’ve even been witness to a company who now ceases to exist in large part because they got too far over their skis in regards to their talent.

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Proactively evaluate talent and plan for the future

So how do you ensure the right leadership talent not only for now, but also for your future?
Just like every other facet of your business, its important to be forward thinking and proactive in regards to your leadership talent. If you are $10M today, and your 5 year plan calls for you to be $30M, you must be looking to hire and/or develop leaders who can handle a department that is 3X larger than it is today.  If you simply hire for what you need today, you’re already behind!  Ask yourself, what competencies would have to be in place for that 3X leader?  Do the leaders you have today possess these competencies?  If not, do they have the potential to develop them?  If you determine a particular leader (or multiple leaders) are not capable of making that leap, you need to consider a change.  If they do have the potential, you need to start developing them NOW.

I encourage you to evaluate your talent, function by function in this very manner.  “If we were 2X, 3X, 5X larger than we are today, what skillsets and competencies would it take to run our sales function, our finance function, our operations function?” How does that compare to the leaders we have today?  Where are the gaps? Can we train and develop, or will we need to hire from outside?  It will never be perfect, it will need to be periodically tweaked as you grow. But, having a sense of where your gaps are at all times, will better ensure you won’t get caught too far “out over your skis” and headed for a crash landing.